Japanese mother tells of heartbreak years after North Korea abducted 13-year-old daughter

Thu Aug 29, 2013 3:27am EDT
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By Elaine Lies

TOKYO (Reuters) - For two decades after 13-year-old Megumi Yokota vanished on her way home from school one November evening, Japanese police called her parents whenever they found an unidentified body.

Unimaginably, the teenager had been abducted and taken to North Korea, her mother told a U.N. Commission of Inquiry panel in Tokyo on Thursday - but there was no clue what had happened to the cheerful girl who liked to sing until reports began to emerge in 1997 of the presence of Japanese in North Korea.

"Up until then, whenever they found a body, or there was a murder, or a skeleton got snagged in the fishing net of a boat, anywhere in Japan, the police would get in touch with us," Sakie Yokota told the commission, the first time Pyongyang's human rights record has been looked at by an expert panel.

"We lived in a sadness that I thought would drive us mad."

Megumi is one of 13 Japanese that Kim Jong-il, the late father of current leader Kim Jong-un, admitted in 2002 had been kidnapped in the 1970s and 1980s to help train spies. Pyongyang says eight of them are dead, including Megumi, but Japan wants more information.

The dispute over the abductees has been a major stumbling block in normalizing relations between the two countries and progress has stalled in recent years, though Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has expressed hope that movement may be possible under the third generation of the founding Kim family.

The North denies that it abuses human rights and has refused to recognize the commission, denying access to investigators.

The nightmare began for the Yokotas in 1977, when Megumi failed to return from playing badminton at school.   Continued...

Shigeru Yokota (C) and his wife Sakie (L), parents of Megumi Yokota who was abducted by North Korea agents at age 13 in 1977, attend a luncheon with Japanese, Thailand and South Korean abductee families hosted by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in Tokyo April 22, 2007. REUTERS/Issei Kato